Thursday, August 04, 2005

Crops and Bobbers

In response to yesterday’s blog entry A Cut Above, received the following from fellow stormbug and study collection research fellow SB.

“Not wishing especially to feel obliged to leap to the defence of DC's curating but as a matter of fact Tacita Dean was represented in the 'Century' show as were other 'post-media' artists like Gillian Wearing, the Chapmans, Tracey Emin... While yr points are well made, I think we're also in danger of reaching a point where the Rosalind Krauss post-medium line has become just as much a prescriptive orthodoxy (after leaving behind Krauss's specificity, complexity and nuance) and any practice that is medium specific or formalist is discredited as outdated. Like a form of multiculturalism that says you can be any religion that you want as long as it's not Muslim.”

SB is of course right that there were some inclusions of work by contemporary artists such as Tacita Dean and the Chapmans in the ‘Century” show but anyone looking at the programme (still up on the Tate Britain website incidentally) will quickly surmise that these inclusions were few and far between. This however is not necessarily a call for more Emin or Wearing, (after all these artists are hardly underexposed) but, for a critical discourse that can encompass a maningfull debate on Gidal and Gordon. 

During part of the “Century” screenings for example there was a large video installation in an adjoining room in Tate Britain by Sam Taylor Wood. It was hard to miss as it occupied a space about four time that devoted to “Century” and during quieter moments in the “Century” programme the sound from the Wood could be heard through the wall. Here was an obvious opportunity for some critical dialogue and yet there was none.

Of course a post media specific discourse implies a critical dialogues should have been taking place with any and all artworks; with say the Tony Cragg piece in an adjoining room at Tate Britain just as much as with the Sam Taylor Wood, just because she was using video projection? Here its worth returning to SB’s comments in particular “I think we're also in danger of reaching a point where the Rosalind Krauss post-medium line has become just as much a prescriptive orthodoxy” (after leaving behind Krauss's specificity, complexity and nuance”) Presumably SB is referring at least in part to the ideas expressed in “A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition” Complexity and nuance are important and post media practice shouldn’t necessarily imply a laisser-faire free for all, lacking in any critical or historical perspective and willingly blind to precedent. To quote from yesterday’s blog A Cut Above… Many contemporary installation artist could learn a great deal from looking at the work of ‘experimental’ filmmakers and similarly those with the new media establishment need to rise to the challenge of seeing their work in a wider context. So yes a post media discourse would potentially include Cragg just as much as Wood but would also recognise shared concerns not of media but of conception. Again from a Cut Above…” There is an obvious continuity between say Malcolm LeGrice and Douglas Gordon so why pretend that they occupy separate histories?”

The number of commentators noting the lack of “serious” critical debate post YBA may well be reflecting the difficulty in establishing these shared conceptual concerns or indeed any parameters at all. Perhaps to suggest that the impetus for a new critical dialogue should come from shows such as “century” is asking too much, but somewhere between the cosy capitalism of gallery based installation artists and the state funded head in the sand of the new media establishment lie the seeds of a new discourse.

Crops & Bobbers salon is at 20 Carr La South Kirkby, WF9 3DB,
Bookings not always necessary but recommended phone 01977 640584.


Steven Ball said...

anyone looking at the programme (still up on the Tate Britain website incidentally) will quickly surmise that these inclusions were few and far between and often seemed token.

I guess it's a question of contextualization. Yes there were specific programmes for 'New Romantics', 'Structural Film', 'Expanded Cinema', 'Landscape', etc, but the 'yBa' films (sic), get shuffled into categories that are specifically not identified as 'yBa', or some other demarkation of difference. I'm not so sure that it's so much tokenism though, as it is that the historical context for the work is still being drafted. So in a sense your suggestion that a historical link needs to be made would do some of that work.

I think there is a distinction to be made between, say, MLG and Douglas Gordon and you've touched on it by using the word 'capitalist', Current practice is predicated around the imperative to make product as something that can be shown in the gallery as a showroom of the art market. Whereas earlier media specific work was made to explore concepts and processes (the twin legacy of Abstract Expressionism and Conceptualism) and the exhibition was the end result rather than the end in itself. In the neo-con world of mainstream contemporary art it is about exhibiting another Sam Taylor-Wood, or another Gillian Wearing, in a limited edition of 5 DVDs. So it's not really a practice that particularly encourages discourse outside of secondary meta-discourse about contexts, interstitiality, whatever. In other words the work doesn't stand close critical scrutiny on the same level as film and video work that is intended to be inherently critical itself. That's not to say that it shouldn't be scrutinised or discussed in those terms, just that the critical paradigms are different.

Nicky Hamlyn tried to apply some old school critical discourse to Douglas Gordon's work in 'Film Art Phenomena' and succeeded only in writing it off as "meaningless". His argument? That in his Hayward show Gordon decided to project '24 Hour Psycho' (previously a single screen work) on both sides of the screen. Apparently this invited "inevitable" comparison with Michael Snow's 'Two Sides to Every Story', a comparison in which Gordon's work comes out as the loser because it fails to do what Snow did (which was to address the specificities of the form of presentation).

If this discourse about the lineage that you perceive from experimental film and video to contemporary practice is going to have any meaning, it's going to have to do better than Hamlyn criticising chalk for not being cheese. It's going to have to acknowledge the other discourses surrounding this work (I'm thinking particularly of some of the things that Nicholas Bourriard has written about interstitiality and 'post-production'), whether one 'likes' or 'agrees with' that discourse or not, as much as one should expect post-medium commentators to do a little bit more work than use specific examples to write-off an entire practice. This in essence is what Krauss does. By setting up Broodthaers as a exemplar for 'post-media' artists and comparing him with the 'narcissism' of video art practice, she makes generalized criticism of video art, from a very narrow and specific reading of the practice.

On the whole the neo-con gallery scene and art school (esp Goldsmiths, and there are movements afoot I think here at CSM) agenda is to intentionally marginalize chunks of practice so that essentially it doesn't have to deal with it (plus ca change...). So media specific and formalist, even materialist, practices continue, but now they inhabit the internet, VJing, so-called 'glitch' music/video. Or the 'new abstraction' which cannot be accommodated by mainstream art discourse. In addition the number of artists whose work in critical media (Bureau of Inverse Technology, RTMark, the Yes Men, et al - interestingly they would probably, like some old school experimental filmmakers, balk at even being described as 'artists'!) while often fatally compromised in the impact of the results of their work, are nonetheless attempting to reinvigorate media specificity - and often big M media - embodying a critical stance or occupying subversive positions. In many ways these practices have inherited the politics and intent of much media specific experimenta, and usually without the modernist elitist idealism. More so, I would argue, than the yBas and co.

When the established gallery scene tries to catch up with 'radical' practice, it manages to make it completely underwhelming by missing the boat by several years. A case in point is this year's Gustav Metzger curated East.

Sorry for rambling.

ps said...

Yes its hard not to agree that when it comes to new media the mainstream contemporary gallery scene often behave like teenagers who think they are the first to ever have sex and are blissfully and wilfully unaware of all the squelchy fumbling that has gone before. Similarly many art colleges who have embraced the no media approach have yet to establish a critical framework within which to teach the students. But…this is all an argument in favour not of isolationism but of further integration of practice. The trick is in achieving a non-media specificity without dissolving into nothingness.